The Underrated: The Go-Between (1970)

I’m a product of Generation Y, otherwise notoriously referred to as a “Millennial.” Sadly, I admit that I fit the description all too well. Just yesterday I forgot my phone in the house for the very first time. Once I realized this, the syndromes instantly started kicking in. Apart from the twitching, hyperventilation, and dizzy spells (I also forgot my smelling-salts), I didn’t know what time it was! Wrist-watches can only be found in museums now, right? Anyway, I would absentmindedly dig into my pocket thinking that it was there and pull out an empty Jolly Rancher’s wrapper, inducing misty eyes and a sense of failure. How on earth was I going to know what was happening in the world!? Nope, the umbilical cord had been severed. I roamed the streets feeling like the subject of a Bruce Springsteen song. The fact that it was sixty degrees, which in SoCal translation basically means that the second Ice Age is upon us, sent a shiver down my cell-phoneless body. But luckily, I made it home just in time before the trauma was at the therapy stage. Now I just need to worry about this dependency issue. But like, it’s not a big deal because I can give it up whenever I want.

So what am I getting at? If there’s one thing that I am assuredly grateful about technology, it’s that it has allowed me to access films that I would never have had the exposure to  continually revisit years before. Up until VHS really, if you watched a movie in the theaters that was that. You wouldn’t be able to catch it again unless there was a revival or if it happened to come out on T.V. Those movies that weren’t popular would get cast away into the depths of archive oblivion. But now, DVD’s, Blu-ray’s, On Demand, Netflix, Hulu, TCM, etc. has made it possible for films from all over the globe and throughout time to see the light of day once again. This segment of my blog will be devoted to those movies, the ones otherwise neglected or relatively unknown, in hopes of bringing some curiosity from the reader to check it out. Hopefully, recommend it to others. The theme here is to spread the love because God knows these films really need it.

The Go-Between (Losey, U.K., 1970)
1970 The Go Between Poster

It won the Palme d’Or in the 1971 Cannes Film Festival. Andrew Sarris named it the best movie of the year. It’s included in BFI’s top 100 British films. The renowned Margaret Leighton got her only Academy Award nomination as a supporting actress for this movie. And yet, Joseph Losey’s The Go-Between hardly gets mentioned at all today, which is a sad case for a movie that deserves all of its accolades.

The story is adapted from L.P. Hartley’s novel of the same name. The screenwriter, Harold Pinter, had collaborated with the director twice before. But unlike The Servant and AccidentThe Go-Between is rooted more in classical theater than in the abstract cinematic experimentation of the 1960’s. It tells the story of Leo, a young boy staying over his friend’s summer home in the country at the turn of the 20th century. He falls in love with his friend’s sister, Marian Maudsley, and does everything he can to please her. She takes a liking to Leo and asks him to privately deliver messages to a neighboring farmer, Ted Burgess, of a lower rank than her upper-class family. Leo gladly accepts until he curiously reads one of her letters. Heartbroken, he discover that she’s having an affair with Ted, a man he’s also befriended by now. Since their relationship is disapproved by Marian’s family, who is engaged to another “approved” gentleman, Leo finds himself in an delicate position with the lives of two lovers at stake.

What distinguishes The Go-Between from standard melodrama is the manner in which the story is told. Rather than an objective perspective chronicling events, an older Leo recollects his youth. The childhood pains of his first love are all there but the tragedy derives from Leo’s remembrance. Now imprinted with the wisdom of life experience, he understands how unfair the circumstances were. It was an injustice to him and to the two lovers that he played such a key role in the future of Marian and Ted’s relationship. The fact that the outcome was determined by a child haunts the older Leo. It’s an indelible experience that he can’t shake off. And yet, there’s a reserved beauty in its quiet lucidness. Yes, memories can be painful but it’s always the ones that hurt the deepest that make life feel most lived.

Directed by: Joseph Losey
Produced by: John Heyman and Norman Priggen
Screenplay by: Harold Pinter
Based on The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley, a 1953 novel
Starring: Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Dominic Guard, Edward Fox, Margaret Leighton, Michael Redgrave, Michael Gough
Cinematography by: Gerry Fisher
Music by: Michel Legrand
Country: U.K.
Release Date: December 1970 (U.K.) and November 13, 1971 (U.S.A.)
Running Time: 118 minutes

And here’s a link to Michel Legrand’s hauntingly wonderful score: